Portable PCs For Photographers; How To Sort Out The Best For Your Imaging Needs Page 2

Specs And More Specs
Now, let’s clarify those specifications. The first abbreviation you’ll encounter is OS. It stands for Operating System, and that’s the first decision you’ll need to make. If you go the way of the Mac you’ll have fewer overall hardware choices (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and higher average performance, at least where photo-related chores are concerned. In fact, you can skip the remainder of this article and buy an Apple MacBook Pro with the largest screen and biggest hard drive you can afford and be done with it. You could do a lot worse.

Whither Windows
If you choose Windows you must select between Vista and scouring the countryside looking for notebooks that still offer Windows XP. Vista has its detractors, and to make things more confusing, it comes in four versions. If you take the Vista route, stick with Windows Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate; that way you can take advantage of Windows Media Center. Interestingly enough, some of even the very latest 2009 model netbook computers offer Windows XP as the preinstalled OS, and others offer a “downgrade” to XP at no additional cost. In any event, Windows 7 is currently in beta testing, and while at first blush the enhancements it offers seem targeted more toward IT professionals than photographers and graphic artists, only time will tell.

Lenovo S10 Series
Lenovo notebooks are notorious for great value at low prices. Their S10 series combines good looks, a full feature set, and a very sharp display—all at prices that start below $400.

Central Processing Unit
Every operation that a PC performs (except bouncing when dropped by airport security) is controlled by the CPU (Central Processing Unit). All processors are given cool-sounding names by marketing guys and a measurable clock speed by the laws of physics. The higher the clock speed, the faster the chip performs, provided that you’re comparing two CPUs that are identical in all other respects. The Intel Core 2 Extreme processor family currently offers the world’s fastest performing quad-core and dual-core mobile processors. Multi-core CPUs have two or more computational engines on a single die. Conventional processors have only one. When used with the right software, multi-core processors can perform parallel execution of multiple software threads simultaneously. In other words, they can do two (or more) entirely different things at once. The OS recognizes each core as a separate processor. The benefit: a significant increase in computational speed. The computer power does not double but the increase in performance is substantial.

The total amount of RAM in your system is next in order of importance, and is one of the easiest (and cheapest) specs to beef up—sometimes. Memory modules are inexpensive, to be sure, but many notebook PCs have limited upgrade capacity. Most notebook computers have two sockets that hold memory chips; some ultra-compacts and netbooks have only one slot. If you buy a PC that has only one slot and it’s occupied by a 1GB SODIMM (the fancy name for notebook memory modules), you must remove and replace it with a 2GB module if you want to upgrade. It’s not the end of the world, but the 1GB module you remove is essentially worthless, unless you can use it to upgrade a different machine. Your best bet is to buy a PC that has at least one empty slot, that way you can add more chips later without throwing the old ones away. And, of course, always buy as much preinstalled RAM as you can afford in the beginning—2GB minimum.

Sony VAIO P Series
The Sony VAIO P Series Lifestyle PC is the world’s most portable 8” notebook and weighs just 1.4 lbs. You won’t be doing any image editing on this machine but if you’re looking for a fashionable netbook that will literally slip into your pocket, this is just the ticket. With full GPS functionality it becomes something you’ll take with you everywhere. Available with a 60GB hard drive or up to a 128GB solid state drive and up to 2GB of RAM, the basic model sells for $899.

Hard Drives
Hard drives typically range from 100-320GB or even larger. This is clearly a situation where bigger is definitely better, particularly if you plan to edit space-hogging digital video. Even über-tiny netbooks can be had with 160GB hard drives, and external USB drives now cost less than dinner for two (without wine). Some netbooks are offered with solid state drives which are blazingly fast but quite small (16GB or thereabouts). If you buy a box with a small drive, be aware that you will not be able to install much in the way of additional application software.

While it’s possible to buy some Desktop Replacement notebooks with twin drives that are configured as a data-protecting RAID array, you can accomplish nearly the same thing by buying one or more large capacity external drives and some reliable back-up software. You can also connect to a network drive for back-up purposes. At the very least, plug a large thumb drive into a USB port frequently and back up your recent work.

Optical Drives
Netbooks and some small notebooks have no room for built-in optical drives, but external DVD burners generally cost less than $100. If you are buying a box that’s big enough to have a DVD burner on-board, make sure it’s at least 8x. Blu-ray compatibility is a big plus, but it drives up the price. LightScribe is a very useful disk labeling technology and offered by many manufacturers, but unless you’re sure you’ll use it, don’t pay extra for it—it’s slow and impractical when you’re running off batteries.

Other Specs
Sometimes you get more features with a notebook than you do with a desktop PC. For example, tablet notebooks can read your handwriting as you jot notes on the screen. Many notebooks have built-in multi-format memory card readers. Even more useful are multiple I/O (Input/Output) ports. Count the number of Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0) and FireWire (IEEE1394, also known as iLink) ports that are available. And of course, the coolest feature is the built-in webcam that watches you like something from a George Orwell nightmare.